|Publication number||US6474674 B2|
|Application number||US 09/777,754|
|Publication date||Nov 5, 2002|
|Filing date||Feb 6, 2001|
|Priority date||Mar 15, 2000|
|Also published as||US20010035629|
|Publication number||09777754, 777754, US 6474674 B2, US 6474674B2, US-B2-6474674, US6474674 B2, US6474674B2|
|Inventors||Gerald S. Piercey, III|
|Original Assignee||Mountain Master Sales, Llc|
|Export Citation||BiBTeX, EndNote, RefMan|
|Patent Citations (20), Referenced by (17), Classifications (14), Legal Events (6)|
|External Links: USPTO, USPTO Assignment, Espacenet|
The present application claims priority rights based on U.S. Provisional Application Serial No. 60/189,717 filed Mar. 15, 2000.
The present invention relates generally to a suspension system for a hitch mounted to connect a towing vehicle to a trailer.
Most current hitch assemblies merely provide a rigid interconnection between a tow vehicle, such as a pick-up truck, and a trailer, such as a camper or horse trailer, without facilitating adjustment to various load conditions of the trailer during travel over the roads. Such an inability to compensate for driving conditions often results in discomfort for the driver and passenger of the tow vehicle as well as excess wear and tear on both the tow vehicle and the trailer.
Specifically, these hitch assemblies lack an effective means by which to cushion shock created in the fore and aft directions by relative acceleration/deceleration between the tow vehicle and the trailer. These hitch assemblies further lack an effective means by which to cushion shock created in a vertical plane by disparities in pitch angle between the tow vehicle and trailer. Finally, these hitch assemblies lack an effective means by which to accommodate relative rolling motion or tilting that occurs between the tow vehicle and trailer caused by the tow vehicle and trailer being driven or parked on uneven pavement or ground.
Various devices are known in the art for securing a trailer to a pickup truck or similar towing vehicle in a towing configuration. U.S. Pat. No. 2,193,744 to Shriver relates to a fifth wheel hitch in which the trailer-mounted assembly is movable fore and aft against the bias of coil springs that absorb sudden acceleration and deceleration. U.S. Pat. No. 2,093,761 to Kramer relates to a hitch wherein coil springs absorb fore and aft movement of a hitch structure. The hitch structure is mounted on the tow vehicle. These two patents do not contemplate fore and aft cushioning, vertical cushioning or roll accommodation.
U.S. Pat. Nos. 4,861,060 and 4,961,564 to Schult et al. disclose a cushioning air bag in a fifth wheel. The thin air bag 38 is in pneumatic communication with the interior of framing tubes 43 and 44 (best seen in FIG. 6), which interiors serve as the reservoir for the pneumatic air bag. U.S. Pat. No. 5,639,106 to Vitale et al. discloses cushioning air bags in FIGS. 1 and 7. In FIG. 1, four air bags 32 are employed to support the upper structure of the hitch. In the FIG. 7 embodiment of Vitale et al., the two cushioning air bags 57 separate a pivotally connected upper structure, the bags being located between the structure and lower fixed structure at an end of the pivotal structure remote from the pivot. U.S. Pat. No. 5,785,341 to Fenton discloses both a cushioning air bag and a shock absorber disposed intermediate pivotally connected upper and lower structures of the hitch as illustrated in FIGS. 1(a), 2, 3, 4 and 5 of that patent. U.S. Pat. No. 5,328,198 to Adams discloses both a cushioning air bag 15 and a shock absorber 38 located between a pivotal upper portion of the hitch and the lower fixed structure. An elastic band 44 limits the upper movement of the upper pivotal member. U.S. Pat. No. 5,226,675 to Noah et al. discloses an active hitch structure in which sensors detect changes in vertical force to effect pneumatic activation of an air bag 42 as shown in FIG. 3. U.S. Pat. No. 4,580,806 to Kolstad et al. discloses a pivotal upper hitch structure cushioned by an air bag and having a connected shock absorber absorbing vertical acceleration shock of the pivotal upper structure. U.S. Pat. No. 3,208,770 to Freitas et al. discloses a fifth wheel pneumatically cushioned hitch. These patents do not contemplate fore and aft cushioning or roll accommodation.
Accordingly, what is needed in the art is a hitch apparatus that provides fore and aft cushioning, vertical cushioning and roll accommodation as a comprehensive means of improving occupant reducing wear and tear on both the tow vehicle and trailer.
Use of an airbag to cushion a hitch is known. However, without some restraint against hitch supporting structure moving away from the supporting structure under the influence of the air bag, the hitch can be broken during unhitching of a trailer if the airbag is not first deflated. Also, without such restraint, in the event of an accident, a hitch with its supporting structure pivotally connected to the tow vehicle can swing upward and can release the trailer to continue forward to impact the cab of the tow vehicle.
In addition to improved hitch performance and safety, it would be desirable if, upon removal of the uppermost, coupling portion of a hitch, a flat truckbed was left to carry a load.
According to principles of the present invention, a hitch apparatus for removably coupling a trailer to a tow vehicle provides fore and aft cushioning, vertical cushioning and roll accommodation.
In a preferred embodiment, the apparatus comprises a pivotal mount, a carriage slidably secured to the mount and a rockable cradle on the carriage. A mounting assembly for the hitch includes a pair of rails. Each rail is pivotally coupled at a first end with the mounting structure for securing the apparatus to a truck bed or to the trailer. The carriage is mounted on the rails by means of a pair of rail guides, each of which is slidably received on a corresponding one of the rails and is thus slidable in directions fore and aft relative to the tow vehicle and trailer. One or more diagonally extending shock absorbers are pivotally coupled at one end with the truck bed or the trailer on which the apparatus is mounted and pivotally coupled at the other end with the carriage. The cradle is pivotally coupled with and disposed within the carriage so as to be rockable side to side. The hitch is mounted on the cradle.
A first plate (or other member) is mounted on second ends of the rails remote from their pivotal connection to the mounting structure. An air bag is secured to the truck bed directly underneath the first plate when it is the truck on which the apparatus is mounted. A second, fixed plate (or other member) is located on the truck bed directly above the first plate. This second plate limits the upward pivotal movement of the rails and the hitch supported on the rails. In a preferred embodiment, the rails do not pivot upward beyond the horizontal. The limited upward pivotal movement provided by the second plate limits the degree to which the air bag can raise the hitch in the event that one attempts to unhitch a trailer without first deflating the air bag. Also, this limitation on the pivotal upward movement by the rails supporting the hitch prevents the rails and hitch being raised high above the truck bed and coming uncoupled from the trailer in the event of a collision. The tow vehicle occupants are thus protected from the trailer plowing forward into the cab. Of course, when the apparatus is mounted on the towed trailer, the foregoing vertical relationship of parts is reversed; the air bag is located above the first plate between an overhanging trailer part and the pivoted rails and attached plate. It is downward pivotal movement of the rails that is limited by the second plate.
In one preferred embodiment, the hitch supporting provisions are all located below the upper surface of a truck bed. When the hitch is removed from its supporting members, a flat truck bed is left behind to handle a load.
The invention will be better understood from a reading of the following detailed description taken in conjunction with the drawing figures in which like reference designators are used to designate like elements, and in which:
FIG. 1 is a fragmentary side view of an apparatus incorporating features of the present invention;
FIG. 2 is a cross-sectional view of the apparatus of FIG. 1 taken along line 2—2;
FIG. 3 is a cross-sectional view of the apparatus of FIG. 1 taken along line 3—3;
FIG. 4 is a side plan view of a tow vehicle and trailer arrangement incorporating a first alternative embodiment of the present invention;
FIG. 5 is a side plan view of a tow vehicle and trailer arrangement incorporating a second alternative embodiment of the present invention; and
FIG. 6 is a fragmentary side view, partially in section, of a hitch mounting apparatus located below the upper surface of a truck bed.
As shown in FIGS. 1, 2 and 3, a preferred embodiment of an improved hitch assembly 1 incorporating principles of the present invention includes a four-walled frame 10 fixedly mounted on the surface of or within a recess in a tow vehicle truck bed 24. Arrows F and A represent the fore and aft directions in FIG. 1, respectively. As best seen in FIG. 3, a first rail 20 is pivotally mounted to a wall of the frame 10 by a bolt 36A, passing through the frame 10 and the rail 20. A second rail 21 is pivotally mounted to an opposing wall of the frame 10 by a bolt 36B passing through the frame 10 and the rail 21. The rails 20, 21 are thus pivotally connected by the bolts 36A and 36B to the frame 10 and the truck bed 24. A first plate 34 spans and is secured to the rails 20, 21 at their ends remote from the bolts 36A and B.
A slidable carriage 22 having a front plate 42 (FIG. 3), an end plate 43 (FIG. 2) and a lower surface 45 is supported on the rails 20, 21. In FIG. 2, the sliding carriage 22 can be seen to have two rail guides 38, each receiving a corresponding one of the rails 20, 21, shown in section. Accordingly, movement of the carriage 22 is along the rails 20, 21 in the fore and aft direction with respect to the truck bed 24. One of a first pair of rubber or other resilient material bumpers 33, 33′ and one of a second pair of like bumpers 35 35′ can be seen in FIG. 1. These are mounted in close proximity to or in contact with the front and rear faces of the plates 42 and 43 of one carriage 22, limiting movement of the carriage and cushioning it in the fore and aft directions.
A rocking cradle 28 is disposed within the carriage 22 between the front plate 42 and the end plate 43. The cradle 28 is centrally mounted to the front plate 42 and the end plate 43 by a pivotal connection, such as a bolt 40, extending between the front plate 42 and the end plate 43 and through the cradle 28. A conventional hitch 30 is secured to the cradle 28. The hitch 30 incorporates a clamp 31 adapted to receive a conventional trailer-mounted connector, such as a pin (not shown).
A conventional shock absorber 26 extends diagonally and is pivotally coupled at one end by conventional means to the truck bed 24 and pivotally coupled at the other end by conventional means to the lower surface 45 of the sliding carriage 22. The shock absorber serves as a means to absorb shock imparted to the carriage 22 by the trailer in the fore and aft as well as the vertical direction (indicated in FIG. 1 by arrow V).
An air bag 32 is connected between the bed 24 and a plate 34 to serve as a cushioning means to cushion the plate 34 and, thus, the rails 20, 21 and the supported carriage 22, the cradle 28 and the hitch 30. The air bag 32 preferably has a pneumatic connection to a compressor that can be activated remote from the assembly 1. Upward pivotal movement of the rails 20, 21 is limited by a second plate 44 fixed to the frame 10 above and engageable with the first plate 34.
In operation, the hitch 30 receives the trailer-mounted connector to enable towing by the tow vehicle. Carriage 22 allows limited fore and aft movement of the hitch 30 along rails 20, 21 during acceleration/deceleration of tow vehicle. The shock absorber 26 prevents damaging rapid acceleration (or jerking) of the hitch 30 in the fore and aft directions. Pivoting of the rails 20, 21 about the bolts 36A, 36B allows limited vertical movement of hitch 30 relative to the truck bed 24 during towing periods in which the respective surfaces upon which the tow vehicle and the trailer are situated differ in elevation. The air bag 32, by applying upward pressure upon the plate 34, and the shock absorber 26, by applying pressure upon the lower surface 45, combine to prevent damaging rapid acceleration (or jolting) of the hitch 30 in the vertical direction. The cradle 28 allows limited rolling movement of the hitch 30 during periods of travel over uneven pavement or otherwise irregular terrain, thereby reducing or preventing damaging torsional forces imparted to the tow vehicle and trailer.
In an alternative embodiment, best shown in FIG. 4, a hitch apparatus 2, functionally identical to the hitch apparatus 1, is fixed to a trailer 60 instead of to the towing vehicle 24. Accordingly, the hitch 30 of the apparatus 1 may be coupled with a conventional trailer-connecting mechanism known in the art, such as a pin 62, attached to the towing vehicle 24. In such manner, the trailer 60 may be towed by the towing vehicle 24 with all the attendant functional advantages contemplated by the preferred embodiment discussed above.
In a second alternative embodiment, shown in FIG. 5 in relation to a truck bed 24′ and a goose neck trailer 39, a hitch 30′ of a hitch apparatus 3, comprises a socket rather than a clamp and is adapted to couple with a conventional ball-type coupler 63 thereby forming a conventional ball and socket connection. In such case, hitch 30′ is attached directly to the carriage 22, and the cradle 28 is omitted from apparatus 3. In all other respects, the hitch apparatus 3 is functionally identical to the hitch apparatus 1.
In FIG. 6, a hitch mounting apparatus 4 is illustrated in which major portions of the mounting apparatus are located below the upper surface 65 of a truck bed. Removal of the hitch 30 leaves a flat truck bed behind for accommodation of a load. A plate 67 spans truck rails 68, one of which appears in FIG. 6. A cutout in the plate 67 accommodates a channel 70 on which the air bag 32 rests. A pair of shock absorbers 71 and 72, only of which can be seen in FIG. 6, extends diagonally from a pair of plates 74, 75 affixed to the channel 70 through openings 77 and 78 in the frame 10 and the plate 67 to the carriage 22. The carriage 22 is slidably supported as in the embodiment of FIG. 1. As in the FIG. 1 embodiment, a pair of rubber or other resilient material bumpers 33, 33′ are fixed to a channel 83 supported on the air bag 32, and a second pair of such bumpers 35, 35′ are supported on a member 88 that forms a part of the pivoted rail assembly described in relation to FIG. 1. The bumpers 33, 33′ and 35, 35′ are supported in close proximity to or in engagement with the slidable carriage 22.
Again, the plate 44 limits upward pivotable movement of the pivoted hitch support provisions. An air line 89 is shown that permits remote adjustment of the air bag 32 from a compressor. Again, arrows labeled A and F indicate the aft and fore directions in FIG. 6. For orientation, the apparatus 4 is shown in relation to the tow vehicle's differential 90, its drive shaft 91 and axle 92. The trailer hitch connector is shown in broken lines at 95.
Although the invention has been described in terms of the illustrative embodiment, it will be appreciated by those skilled in the art that various changes and modifications may be made to the illustrative embodiment without departing from the spirit or scope of the invention. For example, the rails 20, 21 and the plate 44 may alternatively be pivotally secured to a truck bed through means other than the frame 10. It is intended that the scope of the invention not be limited in any way to the illustrative embodiment shown and described but that the invention be limited only by the claims appended hereto.
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|U.S. Classification||280/441, 280/487, 280/484|
|International Classification||B60D1/50, B60D1/00, B60D1/14|
|Cooperative Classification||B60D1/249, B60D1/00, B60D1/488, B60D1/50|
|European Classification||B60D1/48J, B60D1/24P, B60D1/50, B60D1/00|
|Feb 6, 2001||AS||Assignment|
|May 3, 2006||FPAY||Fee payment|
Year of fee payment: 4
|Apr 23, 2010||FPAY||Fee payment|
Year of fee payment: 8
|Jun 13, 2014||REMI||Maintenance fee reminder mailed|
|Nov 5, 2014||LAPS||Lapse for failure to pay maintenance fees|
|Dec 23, 2014||FP||Expired due to failure to pay maintenance fee|
Effective date: 20141105